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Baha’i

November 2003 | by Jonathan Skinner

The Baha’i faith — to which the British weapons expert Dr David Kelly converted some four years ago — could hold a clue to his frame of mind before he committed suicide, a friend believes.

Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the circumstances of his tragic death was told about the teachings of the faith and what effect they may have had on Dr Kelly.

The religion is based on the teachings of a nineteenth-century Iranian nobleman, Baha’u’llah, and seeks to eliminate conflicts between faiths. So, what is the Baha’i faith all about?

Interfaith

Religious leaders in the UK recently received a letter from The Universal House of Justice, the governing council of the Baha’i international community. The aim of this initiative is to encourage religious leaders to ‘take up interfaith dialogue more vigorously and confidently than ever before: to identify common ground and to bring communities together’.

The document states: ‘Tragically, organised religion, whose very reason for being entails service to the cause of brotherhood, behaves all too frequently as one of the most formidable obstacles in the path . . . it has long lent its credibility to fanaticism’.

The letter claims that ‘all the world’s religions are equally valid in nature and origin’ and that those who disagree are bound ‘by entrenched patterns of sectarian thought’. These are strong words.

The international Baha’i leadership have asked followers in the United Kingdom to share their message with all the religious leaders of this country.

The document quite rightly states that religion has often fuelled ‘the most bitter conflicts dividing the earth’s inhabitants’. A glance at our newspapers will quickly confirm the point.

And, if unconvinced, we have only to leaf through the pages of history and note the Jihads, Crusades, inquisitions and various other persecutions, to confirm the conclusion.

Dire diagnosis

The letter continues in almost apocalyptic terms: ‘With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a world-wide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome’.

In the light of this dire diagnosis, Baha’i believers feel that the only solution is to strengthen interfaith activities and dialogue.

Behind this sincere belief lies the conviction that ‘God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion likewise is one’.

The Baha’i see the possibility of the world’s religions ‘drawing closer together in response to the Divine Will for the human race’. Indeed, they feel we are entering a ‘collective maturity’ — a New Age of religious harmony and exploration.

Superficial

Although the description of our planet’s religious turmoil may in part be correct, and the solution may be attractive, it has to be said that the diagnosis does not go deep enough and the proposed solution is superficial.

The letter implies that humanity is on an upward path — if only the barrier of religious dogma could be removed, harmony would prevail! But the stark reality is that people fight — with or without the excuse of religion!

Wherever we look, humans fall out with one another — in families, communities, workplaces, countries, or political power-blocks. We are bent on tearing one another apart.

Religion may well add heat to the conflict, but the conflict is inherent in human nature. Religious agreement will not end hostility.

Breakdown

The Bible tells us that when humanity fell out with God, we fell out with one another. The breakdown in our relationship with God needs to be dealt with first. But the key question is: ‘how?’

It is when we tackle this question that things get difficult — because, far from agreeing, the world’s religions say very different things. And their claims are mutually exclusive.

Take Christianity for instance. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me’. That is an exclusive statement — one that leaves no room for the equally exclusive claims of other religions.

We need to be grown up enough to accept this — we cannot pretend that under the surface all religions are saying the same thing. They are not.

Irony

There is a profound irony here — the Baha’i proclaim that we should be inclusive in our beliefs — and yet they are being just as exclusive as anyone else. The Baha’i dogma, that all exclusive beliefs are wrong, is in reality an exclusive belief!

Surely, we have to live with human society as it is, with all our differences. The fact that we disagree necessitates respect for others: ‘As we have opportunity, let us do good to all’, writes the apostle Paul (Galatians 6:10).

Religious opinions must only be spread by word, not by the sword. Jesus said we are to love our neighbours as ourselves — even those we might consider our ‘enemies’ (Matthew 5:44).

It is by such love, and only by such love, that the unique truth of ‘the gospel of the glory of Christ’ will be made clear to needy sinners in a needy world (2 Corinthians 4:4).